With so many options, what are my favorite superfoods and why?
Everyone is talking about their favorite superfoods
Superfoods. They seem to be in everyone’s vocabulary. For the last few years, it seems a new superfood comes along every few months. Lately, I feel almost all fruits, vegetables and spices are a superfoods 😂! While I agree that fruits and vegetables are amazing and should compose a large part of our diet, there are definitely some that are higher on the list than others.
I thought this week we could discuss some of the top ones that have scientific research backing them up, so that you can consider adding them to your diet. I’ll concentrate on my top two favorite superfoods and I’ll give you the research behind them. That doesn’t mean that other “superfoods” aren’t great, but we may not have as much data on them as we have on the following two foods.
Let’s begin with a spice.
Pictured above, we see the plant-derived spice Turmeric. A staple in Asian cuisine and the secret ingredient behind curry, turmeric root gives curry that bright, yellow color. I find it somewhat similar to ginger, except I think it tastes a bit bitterer. 🤔
You can use it as a spice for cooking, or you can take the root and put it in your juice extractor (be careful because it will stain EVERYTHING, I know first-hand), or you can even get supplements that contain curcumin.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been used across time in traditional Chinese and Ayurveda medicine. For thousands of years, people knew about its anti-inflammatory activities. We know both humans and animal tolerate this spice very well, even at high doses.
Curcumin is able to scavenge harmful free radicals and prevent the DNA damage that these can cause.
A note on oxidative stress
By now, I am sure you have heard, at one point or another, people mentioning oxidative stress and free radicals. In order to understand one of the reasons why curcumin is helpful, we have to understand oxidative stress.
Oxygen is key to our survival, but it isn’t all roses. Too much oxygen is actually harmful. Without complicating things, we know that many of the metabolic processes in our body need oxygen for fuel. A product of these processes results in formation of free radicals. These free radicals are unstable molecules that need to “steal” tiny parts (called electrons) of our stable molecules, so they can become stable. In stealing, they turn our stable molecules into unstable ones as well. This results in a chain reaction that causes damage and is simply not good for our bodies.
Of course, our bodies have natural defenses against these free radicals. Also, our diets are very important to control this oxidative stress. For example, antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and E, help keep free radicals in check by donating those little pieces, or electrons, which they need. This way, they don’t have to take them from our stable molecules!
For what conditions is curcumin beneficial?
Research has shown a slew of conditions in which curcumin can help:
- Anti-tumor properties: Numerous studies show that curcumin is able to inhibit the growth of gastrointestinal, liver, breast, urinary system, reproductive system, brain and bone cancers/tumors, among others (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). There are even some studies suggesting that combining curcumin with chemotherapeutic agents can potentiate the effects of the chemotherapy against cancer cells! Bigger, rigorous trials will hopefully be done in the near future with this agent, but the data is promising!
- Brain health: The people of India have one of the lowest incidences of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide. Although the reason for this may be multi-factorial, many researchers believe that their turmeric heavy diet may play a big part. Amyloid plaque formation in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, has been shown to diminish in curcumin fed animal studies. Furthermore, studies looking at brain-toxic aluminum show that behavioral changes and brain changes caused by aluminum are improved by curcumin.
- Heart health: Another benefit of curcumin seems to be in preserving our heart function. Rat studies show that even after inducing a heart attack (which would normally cause the heart muscle to be unhappy and work less effectively), a group of rats that were fed oral curcumin had significantly better heart function compared to the rats that were just fed their regular food.
- Wound healing: Several studies point towards positive effects of curcumin in wound healing via its antioxidant effect, increased collagen synthesis and formation of new blood vessels.
These are just a few of the benefits provided by one of my top favorite superfoods, curcumin. It may also help control blood sugar in diabetics and protect from the long-term complications of diabetes. More to come from this super spice!
My next top choice in favorite superfoods is another favorite in Asian culture. Green tea has also been around for thousands of years. It packs quite the nutritional power punch as well. It has substances called catechins, a group of very active flavonoids. Flovonoids are free-radical neutralizing anti-oxidants that occur naturally in plants.
Green tea has four main catechins, but the major and most biologically active is called epigallocatechin-3-gallete (EGCG). Many of the benefits stemming from green tea come from this component.
There are many varieties of green tea, and the potency varies depending mainly on the age of the leaves. There is a particular type of green tea called Matcha green tea. With Matcha, you consume the whole tea leaf (ground up into a fine, bright green powder). Since you consume the entire leaf (as opposed to regular green tea, where you seep the leaves and then discard), you are getting the highest anti-oxidant support.
Personally, I really like Matcha! You can make a latte and it is a great coffee substitute. Be aware, however, that you will get more caffeine from Matcha than you would from regular green tea. So, you may want to avoid it later in the day if you are caffeine sensitive.
What does research say green tea is helpful for?
Here are a few of the highlights:
- Cancer fighting: As most antioxidants, green tea has been studied for its anti-cancer properties. Many of the cancer preventive properties of green tea are probably influenced by EGCG. Specifically, colon, breast, lung, prostate, bladder, oral and skin cancer development and treatment have been explored in relation to green tea. For all of these, there seemed to be a positive response in terms of treatment or prevention. For example, studies looking at rates of colon cancer in Japan and China, where green tea is consumed regularly, show that the more green tea people consume, the lower the incidence of colon cancer. Also, women who drink three or more cups of green tea per day have a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence than their non-tea drinking counterparts.
- Heart health: A review of 11 trials, totaling a number of 821 participants, found that regular consumption of green tea was beneficial for the heart. Specifically, they saw that green tea produced clinically significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Infection prevention: Green tea also has antimicrobial properties, as studies show that it is helpful in treating multiple viruses (including influenza and the genital wart producing Human papillomavirus), bacteria (like the dreaded Staphylococcus aureus) and fungi (such as the super common Candida Albicans). In a world where antibiotic resistance plagues us, this is certainly something worth exploring.
- Skin conditions: Green tea extract lotions applied topically to the skin seem to be helpful in the treatment of rosacea and acne. Other studies suggest that it also helps with atopic dermatitis and wound healing. Interestingly, a few years back the FDA and the EMA approved a topical ointment composed of green tea EGCG extract as an effective (complete clearance rate of over 50%) treatment of genital warts! 😮
Certainly seems super promising and hopefully larger, more rigorous studies develop to further solidify all this information! It is worth mentioning, that other studies suggest that it may play a role in weight management and blood sugar regulation as well.
And there you have it!
There is a lot of data out there to back these two favorite superfoods! Hence why I think they are great additions to your diet a nd a nice way to boost nutrition (in addition to eating a heavily plant-based diet). Hope you guys enjoyed it! Ask away if you have questions and subscribe 👇🏼, so you don’t miss a post!
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Have a healthy week 💕!